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Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

  1. Watching Rubashov, page 108:

    He found that those processes wrongly known as ‘monologues’ are really dialogues of a special kind; dialogues in which one partner remains silent while the other, against all grammatical rules, addresses him as ‘I’ instead of ‘you’, in order to creep into his confidence and to fathom his intentions; but the silent partner remains silent, shuns observation and even refuses to be localized in space and time…

  2. Listening to Ivanov, page 157:

    There are only two conceptions of human ethics, adn they are at opposite poles. One of them is Christian and humane, declares the individual to be sacronsanct, and asserts that the rules of arithmetic are not to be applied to human units. The other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community–which may dispose of it as an experimentation rabbit or a sacrificial lamb. The first concept could be called anti-vivisection morality, the second vivisection morality. Humbugs and dilettantes have always tried to mix the two conceptions; in practice it is impossible. Whoever is burdened with power and responsibility finds out on the first occasion that he has to choose; and he is fatally driven to the second alternative. Do you know, since the establishment of Christianity as a state religion, a single example of a state which really followed a Christian policy? You can’t point out one. In times of need–and politics are chronically in a time of need–rulers were alwats able to evoke ‘exceptional circumstances’, which demanded exceptional measures of defence. Since the existence of nations and classes, they live in a permanent state of mutual self-defence, which forcecs them to defer to another time the putting into practice of humanism…

  3. In the mind of Rubanov, page 255:

    The sole object of revolution was the abolition of senseless suffering. But it had turned out that the removal of this second kind of suffering was only possible at the price of a temporary enormous increase in the sum total of the first. So the question now ran: Was such an operation justified? Obviously it was, if one spoke in the abstract of ‘mankind’; but applied to ‘man’ in the singular, to the cipher 2-4, the real human being of bone and flesh and blood and skin, the principle led to absurdity. As a boy, he believed that working for the Party he would find an answer to all questions of this sort. The work had lasted forty years and right at the start he had forgotten the question for whose sake he had embarked on it. Now the forty years were over, and he returned to the boy’s original perplexity. That Party had taken all he had to give and never supplied him with the answer. And neither did the silent partner, whose magic name he had tapped on the wall of the empty cell. He was deaf to direct questions, however urgent and desperate they might be.

My favorite Quotations from Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler.


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Posted in Criticism, Excerpts from my Journals, History, Politics | 2 Comments »

A harsh judgment

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Excerpts from my Journals
[Dated July 16, 2003.]

If we find W.M.D. in Iraq, but lose Iraq, Mr. Bush will not only go down as a failed president, but one who made the world even more dangerous for Americans. If we find no W.M.D., but build a better Iraq – one that proves that a multiethnic, multireligious Arab state can rule itself in a decent way – Mr. Bush will survive his hyping of the W.M.D. issue, and the world will be a more hospitable and safer place for all Americans.

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times.


Posted in Excerpts from my Journals, Iraq, Politics, The War on Terrorism | 61 Comments »

Uptight squares whose bag is money and world domination

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Excerpts from my Journals
[Jotted down in May 1999.]

No, man.  What we swingers were rebelling against is uptight squares like you whose bag was money and world domination.  We were innocent man!  If we had known the consequences of our sexual liberation, we would have done things differently, but the spirit would have remained the same.  It’s freedom, baby, yeah!”

Austin Powers to Dr. Evil.


Posted in Excerpts from my Journals | 2 Comments »

A man and a woman

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Excerpts from my Journals
[From 1995, overheard on the street of my suburban neighborhood as I was trying to fall asleep.]

[In the distance, barely heard voices talking – arguing.  One is a man’s; the other a woman’s.   The man is doing most of the talking, and the only word that can be made out if “fuck” and only because of its repetition.  The woman’s tone is pleading.]

[The voices draw nearer and become clearer.]

Man: I don’t fuckin’ care what the fuck you want.  I’m fucking getting the hell out of here.

Woman: Please [almost whining], come one.  Talk to me.  Please!

Man: [shouting] I don’t fuckin’ care at all about you.  I’m fucking getting away at the first fucking chance I get.  I don’t give a fuck about you.

Woman: But we’re married…

Man: [shouting] I don’t fuckin’ care.

Woman: Wait, wait…I want to give you some money.

Man: I don’t want your fuckin’ money.

[The voices begin to fade as the woman’s pleading is now louder than the man’s curses.]

All these years later, coming across this torn out page pasted in another notebook, I feel the same tightening of my gut, feeling the desperation and the anger so raw that I felt that night as a thirteen year old kid hearing this from his window in the early hours of the morning.


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Senator McCain and Senator Bradley

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Excerpts from my Journals
[The week of January 21st, 2000; shortly before the New Hampshire primaries.]

If neither McCain nor Bradley make it past the primaries, I will be disillusioned. I am confident that if either one makes it to the general election, he will win. I find it hard to see how someone can vote for Gore or Bush unless they have some vested interest in one of their candidacies, or because of single-issue loyalty. The two establishment candidates merely want to win. Bush makes careful statements to secure the loyalty of those hardliners in his party yet avoid arousing the ire of those who disagree with him in the mainstream. There is nothing wrong with that – it merely shows shrewdness, but it seems hard to believe Bush thought of these careful statements himself. He seems a man propped up by aides, a cardboard figure given life by the establishment, a soul whose only joy is victory. Gore comes off as more pathetic – a Pinocchio trying to pretend to be a real politician to voters, a man who lacks charisma trying to charm, someone who hates defeat but does not consider himself worthy of winning.

In the end, I voted for Ralph Nader – because I could not bring myself to vote for either candidate.  I can see now how my decision was wrong – and how Mr. Gore, although a poor candidate, would have made a competent president.  I also seriously underestimated the radical nature of the Bush presidency.  What I believed the country needed in 2000 was a non-establishment president – and so, I set my hopes on John McCain and Bill Bradley.

Unfortunately, we were forced to choose between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush.


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September 11

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Excerpts from my Journal
[digg-reddit-me][Undated; between entries for late December 2001 and mid-January 2002]

I didn’t cry until I came home in late December. I knew no one who died. I knew no one who had survived the tragedy. The towers had never been a part of my life.

I cried when I saw the newspapers from the days after the attack. When I read about how television had stopped in the face of the crisis When I remembered catching the last minutes of the TV concert and at an off-campus party on Cambridge Street. When I read the comics, when I read the sports pages about the Mets and the Yankees – especially the Mets and their desperate dash to make the play-offs. When I heard phone calls a person high in the tower made to a person further down, or the calls from people on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Reading The Onion, and watching God cry. When I see the Mayor – Rudy Giuliani, man of the year, mayor of America – when I realize the leadership it took for him to lead the city during and after the attacks. When I drive by the city and notice where the towers are not anymore, and I realize that the island over there is still Manhattan.

As all these memories come together, focused on the moment Isaac, my roommate, shouted at me to get out of bed – and I stood, sat, started transfixed by the smoke and fire – and that terrible footage of the plane headed straight for the building. Unreality had taken hold. I knew it wasn’t a dream, but still, it was not real as I had understood and still understand reality.

I know this terrible thing happened – and that firemen are still removing bodies from the rubble, but it is not real. There’s no way it could be.

So, in a year of Bush league politics, the country rallied around our President – no matter his failings. He is the Stars and Stripes. Disgustingly, this was abused.

But America will survive the abuses of power. After all, it survived September 11, World War II, the Great Depression, the Civil War, and the British invasion.

My country – may she always be right and stay true to her course.

There are two main emotional touchstones which those of us who lived through the Bush years will look back to:

All these years on, it is hard to see the period after September 11 as anything but a missed opportunity – for a president who had won in a disputed election to become the president of all Americans by creating some form of national unity government in response to the crisis – or to call on all Americans to do their part to pro-actively make the world better – something, anything. Instead, he told us to go out and buy stuff, and to be very afraid, and that if we offered him enough leeway, he would be able to protect us. He used the crisis as a political wedge issue; he used it to seize more power for the presidency; he used it to win elections for his party and himself. He abused his office and this moment in history.

It is difficult to remember today that they held vigils in Tehran; that the Irananian moderates in charge of Iran at the time offered to (and did) help us take down the Taliban, and that they wanted to make peace with America1; that in France, Le Monde declared that all citizens of the world were New Yorkers now; that we, as Americans, realized what petty squabbles we had been having for the past decades; that we together honored those men and women who served as firefighters and policemen, as soldiers and spies, whose job it was to protect and serve.

That day – the horrendous attack of that day – reminded those around the world, and those in America, what we had in common, and what all of us admired about this great nation.

Which is why, nearly seven years later, what I feel most is regret – that the opportunity that presents itself with any tragedy was squandered, and then abused. I was amazed when reading the entry posted above that this squandered opportunity, this abuse of power, was already evident while the ruins at Ground Zero were still smoldering.

Members of the Bush administration are fond of saying that everything changed on September 11. They have been ridiculed for it – and rightly so, because for them, that concept has been used to justify the policies they were promoting beforehand. It was rather convenient for them that September 11 changed everything – and proved that what they had been promoting before September 11 was more needed now than ever before – expanded executive powers, an expansion of surveillance powers, war with Iraq, tax cuts, reduced financial regulation, and more Republicans in the Congress.

But what the mockers miss is that something fundamental did change on 9/11. The American people were forced to focus on the world again; many of us no longer felt safe – even if our fears were overstated, and outside of the major cities, almost entirely unfounded. The more fundamental change was emotional, a change of timbre. We were forced to reckon with the fact that some people in the world were so willing to kill us, indiscriminately, that they would kill themselves in order to do so; and we realized that our values and our ways of life have far more in common than in opposition. Despite the partisan attempts to take advantage of this crisis and the polarization that resulted, these emotional facts remain latent. We still remember – however dimly – that we are one people, with far more uniting us than dividing us; and we remember that in our moment of weakness, the world mourned our losses with us and stood with us; and we remember that there are those who wish us harm and who are willing to sacrifice themselves in their cause.

None of this is exceptional, but it sets the stage for the story to unfold.


  1. We didn’t respond. []

Posted in Excerpts from my Journals, History, Politics, Post 9/11 Generation, Reflections, The War on Terrorism | No Comments »

An emotional calculus

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

In evaluating the legacy of the administration of George W. Bush and where we need to go as a nation from here, we need to undertake the delicate, obscure, and imprecise art of projecting how the future will be affected by our decisions today, taking into account the many elements of the past and present that are out of our control. This unknowability of the future and how our decisions affect is one of the essential pragmatic and moral arguments in favor of democracy – because we cannot determine the optimal course using reason, we all take shared responsibility for making our best judgment.Emotions are our attempt, as beings of limited understanding and knowledge, to synthesize the great unconscious mass of our knowledge – the subtle hints, the forgotten information, the half-remembered, the projections based on our past experience – with that which we have analyzed and understood.

What I propose to do here is to perform a kind of emotional calculus – which I think is commonly practiced but rarely described in these terms. Reason is often said to be the light illuminating the darkness; but the future is made of a darkness impenetrable to reason’s light; instead of walking confidently down a lighted path, we instead must grope in the darkness, struggling to identify how best to make our way, and only slowly coming to understand our surroundings.

This is the first part of a three part argument – to be posted on the blog (in at least three parts) over the next week – based on my understanding of two events from the early days of the Bush administration and a more recent event, and how these events relate to what might be called grandiosely the American psyche – but more aptly would be called my personal insight into what Carl Jung identified as the collective unconscious. I would call this attempt David Brooks-esque without being leavened by humor.

My method begins with my own personal experiences and follows an emotional logic.

Posted in Excerpts from my Journals, History, Politics, Post 9/11 Generation, Prose, Reflections, The War on Terrorism | No Comments »

What it means to be a politician

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]Excerpts from my Journals
[Late December 2001; lines jotted down from a Richard Nixon speech.]

Everett Dirksen was a politician in the finest sense of that much abused word. If he were here, I think he might put it this way:

A politician knows that more important than the bill that is proposed is the law that is passed.

A politician knows that his friends are not always his allies, and that his adversaries are not his enemies.

A politician knows how to make the process of democracy work, and loves the intricate workings of the democratic system.

A politician knows not only how to count votes, but how to make his vote count.

A politician knows that his words are his weapons, but that his word is his bond.

A politician knows that only if he leaves room for discussion and room for concession can he gain room for maneuver.

A politician knows that the best way to be a winner is to make the other side feel it does not have to be a loser.

And a politician – in the Dirksen tradition-knows both the name of the game and the rules of the game, and he seeks his ends through the time-honored democratic means…

As he could persuade, he could be persuaded. His respect for other points of view lent weight to his own point of view. He was not afraid to change his position if he were persuaded that he had been wrong. That tolerance and sympathy were elements of his character and that character gained him the affection and esteem of millions of his fellow Americans…

As a man of politics, he knew both victory and defeat.

As a student of philosophy, he knew the triumph of and the tragedy and the misery of life.

And as a student of history, he knew that some men achieve greatness, others are not recognized for their greatness until after their death.

From Lend Me Your Ears, a compilation of the great speeches throughout history by William Safire. Pages 220 – 221. The speech was given by Richard Nixon on September 9, 1969 as a eulogy at the Capitol Rotunda for Senator Dirksen of Illinois. (The eloquence of the speech – and it’s odd placement between the great eulogies by Cicero and Lincoln makes me suspect this may have been a Safire production. I have a feeling this speech may have been a Safire production.)

This Senate seat is now held by Senator Barack Obama.


Posted in Excerpts from my Journals, History, Politics | 3 Comments »

More peril than we are willing to admit

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Excerpts from My Journals
[Dated Monday, June 16, 2003. ]

Someone needs to remind us that what is special about America is not just its power, unprecedented in the world, but also its principles. The one is secure enough, the other in more peril than we’re willing to admit.

William Raspberry. From the Washington Post, page A23.

Back in 2003 when I read this, just after I had gotten back from college for the summer, I didn’t realize how true it was.  I wrote down the line because it had a certain poetic, and ominous ring – but I remember thinking it was overstated.  Over time, William Raspberry’s column looks better and better.


Posted in Excerpts from my Journals, Politics | No Comments »


Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Excerpts from My Journals
[Dated Summer 2001. When I was reading Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way.]

Brief is the growing time of joy for mortals and brief the flowers bloom that falls to the earth shaken by grim fate. Things of a day! What are we and what are we not. Man’s a shadows dream.

Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.

The Greek poet Pindar.


Posted in Excerpts from my Journals, Prose | No Comments »

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